Philadelphia Fighting Satellite Providers Over Ugly Dishes

Last fall, the Philadelphia City Council passed a bill that would remove unused satellite dishes and pretty up any new ones that were bolted to the sides and roofs of city buildings. But that law is having some trouble becoming a reality after a group representing satellite TV providers filed a petition with the FCC.

The bill would prevent dishes from being placed at the front of a home unless doing otherwise would reduce the signal or cost too much for the homeowner. Additionally, new dishes would have to match the color of the home and single-family homes that currently have dishes would be required to notify the city.

The Satellite Broadcasting and Communications Association argues that these rules violate a 1996 FCC rule that only limits placement of satellite dishes in cases of of public safety or historic preservation.

Saying that the City of Brotherly Love (and home of the Phillies, the greatest baseball team on any planet) is using “aesthetic concerns as a pretext to restrict consumers’ access to satellite television,” the satellite providers claim that these regulations would “increase the costs of doing business in the city and would ultimately fall on the users.”

But a rep for the City Council member behind the bill fires back, “We simply ask that they don’t do in our community what they wouldn’t do in theirs.”

What goes unmentioned in a lot of this back and forth is that Philadelphia is home to Comcast, the nation’s largest cable provider, and yet nothing is being done about the wild web of Comcast cables criss-crossing streets and snaking around corners all over this fair city.

Satellite-TV group: City’s jamming us [Philly.com]

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  1. Cat says:

    ::ahem::
    OTARD:
    The rule (47 C.F.R. Section 1.4000) has been in effect since October 1996, and it prohibits restrictions that impair the installation, maintenance or use of antennas used to receive video programming. The rule applies to video antennas including direct-to-home satellite dishes that are less than one meter (39.37″) in diameter (or of any size in Alaska), TV antennas, and wireless cable antennas. The rule prohibits most restrictions that: (1) unreasonably delay or prevent installation, maintenance or use; (2) unreasonably increase the cost of installation, maintenance or use; or (3) preclude reception of an acceptable quality signal.

    Effective January 22, 1999, the Commission amended the rule so that it also applies to rental property where the renter has an exclusive use area, such as a balcony or patio.

    On October 25, 2000, the Commission further amended the rule so that it applies to customer-end antennas that receive and transmit fixed wireless signals. This amendment became effective on May 25, 2001.

    http://www.fcc.gov/guides/over-air-reception-devices-rule

    I’d like to point out that one of the reasons for the existence of OTARD is cable companies collusion with local governments and HOAs to ban the dished, and thus, their competition.

    • Cat says:

      I should add that neither Dish or DirecTV will remove their dish from your home when you cancel. It is their “gift” to you. And an advertisement for them, since their logo is on all their dishes. I agree they should be required to remove them if the (former) customer requests it.

      I managed to turn their “gift” into a win: I used their cable and their hardware to mount my antenna. I also retrieved a Dish from a relative’s roof that I use for Free To Air (FTA) satellite.

      • Zeke_D says:

        I also am using the dtv arm, level and compass to position my analog antenna.

      • balderdashed says:

        When you cancel your Comcast service, Comcast also doesn’t remove the ugly cabling that it criss-crosses over your backyard and attaches to your house. That may be just as well, since if they did, they almost certainly wouldn’t repair (or even fill) the holes they drilled in your siding, and probably didn’t bother to even caulk, in the first place.

    • Brontide says:

      Spot on, came to say the same thing. If installers *must* try secondary locations first this will drive up the cost and maintenance of the dishes which is specifically prohibited in the rule. There is also the problem of an “acceptable quality” since a secondary location may have a borderline signal, requires a significantly longer cable run, and/or repeater. The law also requires that the city be notified, by certified letter, when such and installation must be done in the front of the home but existing dish users need not notify the city leading to a big question of how do they enforce it.

      • longfeltwant says:

        No, that is not specifically prohibited by the rule. Read it again, and pay special attention to the word “unreasonable”.

        • Cat says:

          “Unreasonable” is subjective, and in the majority of cases the FCC in the past has ruled in the satellite customer’s favor.

    • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

      Of any size in Alaska?

      Sounds like a great way for SETI to save on taxes and land costs. Just put a huge antenna in some guy’s backyard. Hey, they ARE trying to pick up video after all.

      • kc2idf says:

        Alaska gets a pass because their high latitude makes signal reception difficult. The satellites are lower in the sky, and a significantly greater distance away. A larger reflector increases the amount of gain that the dish can muster, thereby increasing the signal back to a usable level.

        • 6a says:

          Exactly. I have family in Fairbanks – the dishes up there are also pointed toward the horizon. It looks really weird to see all the dishes pointing down after getting used to how they look in the lower 48.

    • esc27 says:

      Thanks for the info. My HOA technically has some rules about dish placement, but they aren’t heavily enforced. I looked all though the above article and the source for a link to save, just in case the HOA ever complains.

    • MaxH42 thinks RecordStoreToughGuy got a raw deal says:

      I don’t know, I’m torn. They try to make it sound reasonable: “The bill would prevent dishes from being placed at the front of a home unless doing otherwise would reduce the signal or cost too much for the homeowner. Additionally, new dishes would have to match the color of the home and single-family homes that currently have dishes would be required to notify the city.”

      That sounds like they’re complying with OTARD, but I know that “reasonable cost” or “cost too much” is very subjective. The color issue bothers me, because homeowners might want to change the exterior, and they shouldn’t have to include painting the dish (or would that interfere with reception?).

  2. Marlin says:

    But a rep for the City Council member behind the bill fires back, “We simply ask that they don’t do in our community what they wouldn’t do in theirs.”

    What? What does that mean? Did I miss something?
    The dish is the same everywhere. Its not like they have the pretty ones for “insert good area” vs the “grey ones for that dirty PA city”.

    • Helpful moose is helpful says:

      I too was confused by that. Surely every senior exec at satellite TV companies would have a satellite at home so they could check out their own product.

    • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

      He’s basically saying that shitty neighborhoods, with lots of renters, and low property values tend to have a disproportionate number of satellite dishes. He thinks that somehow banning dishes will improve the quality of life in bad neighborhoods.

  3. Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

    My grandmother lives in South Philly and has a satellite dish on the front of her house. She lives in a row house and about 1/3rd of the other buildings in the row have burned down or have been abandoned completely. The satellite dish isn’t exactly ruining the character of the neighborhood.

  4. deathbecomesme says:

    Better than those 6′ round dishes people use to have that took up like half of their front yard

    • Cat says:

      I would love to have one of those dishes, they’re called “C-band”, or BUDs (big Ugly Dishes)

      There’s lots of free, not-scrambled HD programming on C-band.

      • frankrizzo:You're locked up in here with me. says:

        Plus, you can move it around and catch local programming and some networks from different regions. ‘m a high school football and basketball fan. From here I can get Chicago, South Bend, Lafayette and the north side of Indianapolis. Lots of good crap out there but you have to take the time to find it.

  5. HomerSimpson says:

    Hey, come on…Comcast is just trying to beautify some neighborhoods. Bribe here, greased palm there…

  6. dolemite says:

    Hey morons, instead of useless crap legislation like this, why don’t we take a whack at regulating the telecom/cable monopolies so competition can drive prices down to what normal people can afford? You might not have so many satellite dishes if you had 10 telecom/cable companies fighting for business. Maybe people would go for cable or fiber instead of the $29.95 a month dish network special. Worked for Europe.

  7. lovemypets00 - You'll need to forgive me, my social filter has cracked. says:

    When I saw this article post, my first thought was “I wonder how Comcast is involved with this”. I thought they were based in Philly, but I couldn’t remember…glad I read the article.

    It would be interesting to know if Comcast donated to a certain councilman’s campaign efforts.

    • Cat says:

      It wouldn’t be the first time. Nor the last.

      • HomerSimpson says:

        They’re probably kicking themselves they didn’t find some way to regulate satellite dishes in the franchise agreements.

        “We’re sorry Mr. Smith but your application to install a satellite dish has been DENIED. Please call 1-800-COMCAST today to set up your Triple Play service.”

    • balderdashed says:

      Be fair, guys. There aren’t that many job opportunities in Philly, and being on the City Council can’t pay all that well. Surely former FCC Commissioner Meredith Attwell Baker — now a senior VP at Comcast — could use an Assistant.

  8. rpm773 says:

    Yeah, like unsightly satellite dishes are the worst of Philadelphia’s aesthetics problems…

  9. Woodside Park Bob says:

    My house has a Comcast cable hanging from a pole across the street and then over my yard for about 55 feet to my house. It hasn’t been used in years. I wonder if I can get Comcast to come remove it . . . in the interest of beautification, of course.

    • HoJu says:

      I had a friend cut it from his house. Then he called them and told them there was a downed cable that no longer gets used anyway.
      They took it down.

  10. Emperor Norton I says:

    There’s an idiot alderman in Chicago that also wants to pass this.
    Sorry, but part of that is redundant.
    All Chicago aldermen are idiots!

  11. varro says:

    Philadelphia zoning regulations are COMCASTIC!

  12. Cerne says:

    Thank Christ we have government interfering in our lives like this, how would we live without it.

  13. Lyn Torden says:

    Sounds like the city regulation basically says not to put it on the front if it would work fine somewhere else. That seems to me to be within the confines of the FCC rules. If it won’t work at any location other than the front, then the city regulation won’t apply.

  14. guspaz says:

    I hate these crappy bylaws and lease agreement things. For years, my apartment building granted the cableco a monopoly by banning satellite dishes; since the only choices were cable TV from the cable co or satellite TV from the phone company, that narrowed down the choices rather severely.

    The situation isn’t so bad now, since the phone company now offers IPTV over VDSL2, which is available in my apartment building.

    Except I’m not allowed to get it because I already have VDSL2 from a different company. Unless I switch to the phone company’s enormously more expensive/limited internet service, I’m still locked into the cable company for TV.

    Sigh.

  15. Bog says:

    Isn’t the headquarters for Comcast also in Philadelphia?

  16. Bickle says:

    Actually I’d say a huge part of it is the fact that 90% of those dishes are hooked up to pirate cards

    • FLConsumer says:

      The rate’s far less than that. At one time pirate cable boxes and pirate satellite decoders/cards were quite prevalent. These days, I think I know of one person out there who has one, as opposed to back in the day when everyone on my street had pirate cable boxes.

      Far more options out there these days. Far cheaper ways to legitimately obtain content. And far superior ways to obtain bootleg content via the ‘net.